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Redskins are trying to catch a rising star

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Redskins are trying to catch a rising star

Bruce Allen and the Redskins are trying to accomplish one of the most difficult feats in all of sports.

They are trying to catch a rising star.

From looking at the head coaching candidates that we know about the most notable thing is a lack of notable NFL accomplishments. Jim Caldwell was the head coach of a Super Bowl team but, as certain politicians might say, he didn’t build that. Perry Fewell does have a Super Bowl ring he earned as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and Rich Bisaccia has one from his days as the Bucs’ special teams coordinator. But, by and large, the group lacks hardware.

And while not all of the candidates are kids, only Mike Zimmer, who is 57, and 58-year-old Jim Caldwell are as old as Mike Shanahan was when he took the Redskins job four years ago. Jay Gruden, possibly the front runner, is 46. Sean McDermott won’t turn 40 until after free agency starts. James Franklin turns 42 next month.

The idea is simple, really. You find a coach who doesn’t necessarily have a fat resume but one who is high on energy, has leadership qualities, and has a vision for where he wants to take a football team. You make him your own and go on to accomplish great things together for the next 10 or 15 years.

Of course, that is much easier said than done. NFL teams (and other sports teams and, for that matter, businesses and organizations of all types) are constantly trying to identify and hire people who have not yet hit their peak and appear to have a very high ceiling.

The Redskins have tried this approach a couple of times in the last 30+ years. Joe Gibbs, who was 40 when the Redskins hired him in 1981, was the ultimate rising star. He was the offensive coordinator for some very good (but not champion) Chargers teams. But he worked under Don “Air” Coryell, a certified offensive genius. How much of the credit for the San Diego offense did he deserve?

But after trying to force the Coryell system onto the Redskins led to an 0-5 start to his career, Gibbs struck his own path, developed The Hogs, and won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks.

Norv Turner was 41 when the Redskins made him their head coach in 1994. He was thought to be the prototypical rising star after serving as the offensive coordinator on the Cowboys’ back to back Super Bowl champs. Needless to say, he did not work out as well as Gibbs.

Still, one has to wonder what might have happened if Turner had been set up as well as Gibbs in terms of player talent. He walked in the door and found Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Art Monk, Mark Moseley, Dave Butz, Monte Coleman, and a few other key pieces to the team’s first Super Bowl title. Turner came in to a team with Darrell Green and not much more.

It’s doubtful that Turner could have achieved what Gibbs did even if he had arrived to find the likes of Theismann and Monk. But we’ll never know if Joe Gibbs would have survived long enough to win three rings and become a legend had he come to Redskins Park with John Friesz, Heath Shuler, and Gus Frerotte at QB, Reggie Brooks at running back, and Desmond Howard at wide receiver.

So there is an element of good fortune in turning from a rising star into a consistent winner as a head coach. Whoever takes this job probably won’t have it as good as Gibbs did but an offensive core of Pierre Garçon, Trent Williams, Alfred Morris, and Robert Griffin III is a good place to start.

Both Gibbs and Turner came into a relative stable environment at Redskins Park. That word can’t be used to describe the state of things in Ashburn today.

So whether the Redskins find the next legend or the next Norv may not depend totally on the man they hire. But the wrong guy won’t be able to maximize whatever talent is there, so finding the right man comes first.

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Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Need to Know: Redskins’ Friday draft picks could be just as vital to success as first-rounder

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 23, four days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 10
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 31
—Training camp starts (7/27) 95
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 140

In search of someone, anyone, to stop the run

One of the areas the Redskins needed to improve last year was their rushing defense on first down. In 2015, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down. That was the worst performance in the league. It’s pretty tough to play defense when a handoff makes it second and five. The Saints, who had a historically bad defense that year, were second, fiving up 4.8 yards a pop.

Well, it was no better for the Redskins defense in 2016. Again, they gave up 5.0 yards per carry on first down, again the worst performance in the league.  Remember, this is on first down, when teams are most likely to run.

The Redskins’ problems on third down were well known. They were dead last in the league allowing first downs on 46.6 percent of third-down attempts. For context, an average performance on third down is allowing about 38 percent and the best teams are around 35 percent.

That doesn’t tell the whole story, however. The Redskins weren’t very good at getting teams to third down. They allowed first downs on 33.8 percent of their opponents’ second-down plays. That put them in the bottom third of the league. Again, you don’t have to look too hard to connect the dots to link that back to the five yards per rushing play on first down. Second and five is a piece of cake most of the time.

You don’t need an advanced degree in statistical analysis to figure out that the Redskins defense isn’t going to get much better if they can’t stop teams from running the ball on first down.

It’s easy to point to the defensive line, which has not been very good, and say that the problem is there. That certainly has something to do with it. But the Redskins didn’t have a very good D-line in 2014 and they allowed 4.1 yards per first-down rushing attempt, a performance that was right at the league average.

The factor that was common in 2015 and 2016 and was different in 2014 was the defensive coordinator. It’s possible that opposing teams found a flaw to exploit in Joe Barry’s scheme that wasn’t there in Jim Haslett’s (which surely had flaws in other places).

But X’s and O’s can only get you so far. The Redskins will be looking to take a defensive lineman early and perhaps use an additional pick or two at the position later in the draft. While getting one who can rush the passer would be a plus, they need a run stuffer who can take snaps on first down and bottle up the ground game.

The focus in the draft will be on the first-round pick but, as has been discussed here many times, that pick is unlikely to be a defensive lineman. There isn’t likely to be one at 17 who would represent good value. That could mean that the Redskins’ second- or third-round pick, perhaps an interior lineman like Caleb Brantley of Florida, Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, or Montravius Adams of Auburn, is just as important to the team’s success as the first-round pick.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Mock drafts, cap bargains

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 22, five days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 20
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 32
—Training camp starts (7/27) 96
—Redskins opener vs. Eagles (9/10) 141

The Redskins week that was

Redskins full 2017 schedule released—Even with the Caps and Wizards in full playoff mode, the DMV stops to take a look and see when the Redskins will be playing. The Thanksgiving game was surprising. It’s another working day but I worked at various places since I was 14 and last year was the first time I’ve had to work on Thanksgiving so I can’t complain too much about working two in a row. It’s a small price to pay for having the best job in the world.

Don't count out any RB for Redskins at 17—Yeah, I know that NFL teams aren’t supposed to take running backs in the first round any more. But that is one of those trends that comes and goes. In 2013 and 2014 there were no RBs taken in the first. Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in the last couple of years began to shift the thinking. If the Redskins think that Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey can help them win games more than any other player on the board they should pull the trigger.

Rise of Patrick Mahomes could bring big payoff for Redskins—It seems likely that quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky will be taken before the Redskins pick at No. 17 goes on the clock. That means that two players in whom the Redskins might be interested will be available, pushed back by the quarter backs. Could Mahomes, out of Texas Tech, push a third player back to Washington. The buzz is that a team might grab him in the first half of the first round.

The Redskins' five best salary cap bargains for 2017—When I started pulling the numbers for this post I thought I’d find more key players with salaries of under $1 million. I only found three and one of them is the kicker. This means that they don’t have very many late-round or undrafted players who are contributing a lot of value. They need more out of players like Anthony Lanier, Matt Ioannidis and Maurice Harris. That is how a team thrives in the salary cap era. A couple of Saturday picks could make or break this draft.

Redskins mock 2.0 goes offense early, defense often—There are a lot of ways the first 16 picks of this draft can work out. It seems almost certain that everyone’s favorite first-round pick, a stud defensive lineman, won’t be a realistic option on the board. This could send things in an odd direction for the Redskins. It’s fun to do a mock and I’ll do one or two more prior to draft day but there are too many variables to think that it has a high degree of accuracy. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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